High school drama with Windmill Theatre Company

Windmill Theatre Company’s work with two local high schools has unleashed students’ creativity – and a devilish property developer subbing in for a fairytale witch.

Memories of school drama lessons probably feature things like reading very old plays, and the supreme awkwardness of inhabiting the skin of another character when not quite comfortable in one’s own.

Nowadays, arts education experiences are becoming paramount to the success of students as they enter adulthood. Working alongside educators, Windmill Theatre Company is stepping into the classroom to take its stories further.

Supported by the Department for Education and philanthropic partnerships, Windmill’s education program creates a deep engagement with the company’s original theatre works by creating education projects that bridge the gap between the classroom and professional artistic practice.

Windmill executive producer Ross McHenry said the company was often a young person’s first experience of theatre.

“We take that responsibility very seriously. Since our inception, education has been embedded at the core of our company and its incredibly important to everything that we do,” he said.

“Alongside a range of teaching resources, activities, development programs and workshops, every year we undertake a major education project aligned to one of our shows.

McHenry said the projects take many forms and are made in direct response to the ideas in each of their premiere works.

“We’ve created immersive digital resources like Camp Windmill and the award-winning Girl Asleep digital education package, and we’ve taken artists into schools to teach students the art of stop-motion animation and documentary making in line with our show Creation Creation,” he said.

This year, to coincide with the world premiere of Hans and Gret at Adelaide Festival, the company wanted to take this a step further.

Engaging award-winning South Australian director Corey McMahon, Windmill asked two schools, Woodville High School and Wirreanda Secondary College, to attend Hans and Gret and then create their own radical interpretations of the classic Grimm fairy tale.

“The project had the students working as professional devisors,” McMahon said.

“After seeing the show, they worked together with their teachers and myself to write their original scripts, and worked across lighting, costume, acting and make up.

“We also pulled in professional artists from the Hans and Gret company, including performers Jo Stone and Dylan Miller, to bring in outside perspectives to the student’s works.”

Wirreanda Secondary School students created a dystopian thriller titled H &G, which saw them grapple with thorny topics, including drug use and abandonment. The process saw many students engaging with drama for the very first time, using drag and movement to bring their story to life.

Wirreanda senior drama teacher Julie D’Lima said the students had plenty of fresh ideas as to what they could make.

“The students came away from Hans and Gret absolutely buzzing,” said D’Lima.

“And by having Corey join our ensemble, we instantly had the feeling in the room that we were working as a professional team.

“He was able to really get our ensemble focussed from day one. A project like this, where we can bring industry professionals into our school, means that there’s no ‘them and us’.

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“The arts became really tangible for the students, it’s not out of reach anymore.”

Woodville High School’s production Hope and Grady

Students from Woodville High School took a satirical approach to the current cost of living crisis, with the fairytale’s infamous witch taking the form of a fashionably devilish property developer.

Seeing a show like Hans and Gret, which spoke to the students on their level, was crucial to the development of their original work.

“Sometimes there’s this idea that arts subjects aren’t as rigorous,” said Woodville High School senior drama teacher, Rebecca Sykes.

“And then when students go and see a Windmill show and they’re challenged in ways they weren’t expecting, in really personal ways that connect with their lives, that’s when they start to see the power of theatre and the power of the arts. And I think that’s really critical.”

For director McMahon, who’s worked mainly with tertiary educational contexts, the project gave him insight into the importance of young people having a deep engagement with work that grapples with issues at the forefront of the contemporary zeitgeist.

“What’s struck me throughout this process is how ready young people are to talk about big ideas, like abandonment or the cost-of-living crisis,” McMahon said.

“These things aren’t removed from their lives just because they’re high school students, and it’s been wonderful to watch them take things they’re passionate about and bring them to the stage.”

Windmill’s McHenry said creativity “is intrinsic to our existence”.

“We want to make sure that every South Australian young person has access to incredible live theatre that speaks to them,” he said.

“It can be transformative, it can inspire a lifelong love of the arts – access to the arts really matters, performances are tools we use to explore our own perspectives and make sense of our world.”

To support Windmill’s Education program click here to make a tax deductible donation. Or to learn more about how you can support Windmill’s education projects, click here to contact Development Executive, Sarah Pledge.

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